Masonry Sand vs Play Sand: What’s the Difference?

Sand is a fine granular material found on beaches, riverbeds, and deserts. It comes in a variety of colors, including white, black, green, and even pink.

While all sand is made of tiny pieces of rock, the type of sand you use can make a big difference in your project.

Sand has very different uses including masonry work, landscaping, glass manufacturing, cosmetics, paper manufacturing, and of course playgrounds.

While there are many different types of uses of sand, the expectation from each can be different. In this post, we’ll be exploring the differences between masonry sand and playground (play) sand.

Masonry sand and play sand are two different types of aggregates. One is specifically used for building, the other is mainly used as a playground surface.

The main difference between these two types of sand is the size of the particles.

Masonry sand is a fine aggregate made up of smaller particles than play sand. The coarseness or fineness of a particle depends on the size of the particles that make up it.

What is Masonry Sand?

Masonry sand is a type of sand used primarily in construction applications, such as mixing with cement to create mortar for building bricks, stones, or blocks. It should still be free of large debris, clay, or silt, which can negatively impact the strength and performance of the mortar.

masonry sand and shovel

Characteristics of masonry sand:

Fine texture

Masonry sand stands out in the world of construction materials due to its fine and even texture.

Unlike coarser varieties, its grains are consistently sized, making it particularly valuable in construction projects.

When mixed with cement, this sand’s unique texture promotes a seamless blend, resulting in a smooth mortar that’s free of clumps or inconsistencies.

The true strength of masonry sand, however, lies beyond its tactile qualities. Its fine texture guarantees a robust bond between the cement and other building materials, whether it’s bricks, stones, or blocks.

This bond is the unsung hero behind the longevity and stability of many structures.

When you see a building standing resilient against the test of time and elements, there’s a good chance masonry sand played a pivotal role in its endurance.

Clean and free of impurities

Masonry sand, a cornerstone in construction, demands rigorous standards of purity. At a glance, it may seem just like any other sand, but its impurity levels can greatly impact the durability and integrity of a structure.

Grain size plays a crucial role in defining the quality of masonry sand. Ideally, its particles should consistently range between 0.15mm to 2mm.

This uniformity ensures that, when combined with cement, the mortar achieves consistent strength and setting time.

Any deviation from this range can compromise the effectiveness of the bond, leading to potential weaknesses in the constructed structure.

Beyond grain size, the presence of debris and other foreign elements is a grave concern.

Masonry sand should be virtually free of larger debris that surpasses the 2mm mark. Such contaminants, even in minor amounts, can introduce weak points or air pockets within the mortar.

These imperfections, when subjected to external pressures or changing environmental conditions, can accelerate wear and tear, reducing the lifespan of the structure.

Equally detrimental are finer impurities like clay and silt. An optimal masonry sand composition should restrict clay or silt content to no more than 1%.

These fine particles, when in excess, can obstruct the ideal bonding process between sand and cement. The result is a mortar with diminished tensile strength, making it susceptible to cracks and structural instability.

In essence, the purity of masonry sand is not just a quality criterion but a testament to the future stability and longevity of a building.

For any construction project aiming for durability and safety, sourcing and using impurity-free masonry sand is non-negotiable.

Good drainage

Masonry sand’s excellent drainage capability is crucial for construction. Its fine, uniform particles ensure efficient water flow, preventing water retention within the mortar.

Excess moisture can weaken mortar over time, reducing its binding strength and making it vulnerable to environmental factors.

Furthermore, proper drainage ensures optimal curing of the mortar, maximizing its durability and strength.

Thus, masonry sand’s drainage properties are vital not just for moisture management but also for ensuring the longevity and stability of structures.


The color of masonry sand can vary depending on its source and composition. It is commonly found in shades of white, tan, beige, or light brown. The color of the sand can impact the final appearance of the mortar, so builders may choose masonry sand based on their aesthetic preferences.


Play sand is derived from a variety of natural locations, each possessing unique geological characteristics.

Among the most common sources are riverbeds, quarries, and coastal beaches. The place from which the sand originates can significantly influence its inherent qualities.

Sand from riverbeds might possess a smoother texture due to the water’s continuous movement over the sand, eroding any sharp edges. In contrast, beach sand can be coarser because of the grinding effect of waves.

Additionally, the color of play sand can vary, ranging from pale yellow to tan or even white, based on its source and the minerals found there.

For instance, beach sand might contain traces of shells and marine organisms, whereas quarry sand might showcase distinct mineral traces depending on the geological strata from which it’s extracted.

The transformation of raw sand into play sand involves rigorous processing. This starts with cleaning, where impurities and organic materials are removed.

Subsequent screening ensures consistency in grain size and the removal of larger particles or debris.

A critical step in the process is sterilization, where potentially harmful microorganisms are neutralized.

This is especially crucial since the sand is intended for children, who are more susceptible to diseases caused by these pathogens.

The primary goal of these processing steps is to not only refine the texture and composition of the sand but also to ensure its compliance with stringent health and safety standards.

When introduced into children’s play areas and sandboxes, play sand should present no risks, whether in the form of sharp particles or harmful contaminants.

Lastly, it’s imperative for consumers to be discerning when purchasing Play Sand. Sand should be explicitly labeled for play.

While sand from other sources, such as construction sites, might seem similar in appearance, it may not have undergone the necessary purification processes or met safety requirements.

Using inappropriate sand types in play areas could inadvertently expose children to potential health risks.

In essence, the journey of play sand from its natural habitat to our homes and playgrounds is meticulously managed to ensure that while children have fun, their safety remains paramount.

What size Masonry Sand is?

Masonry sand is graded according to the size of its particles. In other words, masonry sand comes in varying degrees of fineness or coarseness.

It can be anywhere between 0.003 inches (0.075mm or #200 mesh size) to 3/16 inches (4.75mm or #4 mesh size). The bigger the mesh size finer the sand as you can see.

However, the size of masonry sand used in construction projects is strictly regulated.

In other words, most contractors will only use the type of masonry sand identified by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). The ASTM has set specifications for the grading, size, and moisture content of masonry sand.

Where does Masonry Sand come from?

Most masonry sands are sourced from quarries by mining. Since the content of the sand is made of rock, the quarry will crush the rocks and then put them through a screening process.

This process separates large chunks into smaller pieces that are used as masonry sand.

Depending on the quarry in which sand is sourced, sand content can vary. However, mason sand is typically made from granite, quartz, limestone, and gneiss.

Before masonry sand is used in construction projects, it should go through a process called grading.

Grading is a method of sorting the different sizes and types of particles that make up masonry sand so they can be used for specific applications.

The grading process is done by a machine that separates the sand into different sizes and drops it into designated piles.

Once the sand is graded, it is then washed and dried. This removes the dust, dirt, and other impurities that may be on the surface of the sand.

The finished masonry sand is then transported through conveyors and belt systems to a processing facility where it’s packaged.

What is Play Sand?

Play sand is a type of sand specifically designed for use in children’s play areas, sandboxes, and playgrounds.

sandbox sand

To ensure safety and prevent health risks, play sand must meet certain health standards. These standards help ensure that the sand is free of harmful substances that could cause health problems for children who come into contact with it.

No Harmful Microorganisms

When it comes to the play sand, the absence of harmful microorganisms is as crucial as its physical properties. Children are especially susceptible to infections, making it imperative for their play mediums to be sterile and safe.

Microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and algae, even in minute quantities, can pose health risks.

They can cause a range of infections, from minor skin irritations to more severe illnesses.

Given that children often have direct skin contact with play sand and occasionally might ingest small amounts, it’s paramount that the sand is devoid of these harmful entities.

To achieve this level of safety, manufacturers implement rigorous sanitation processes.

The sand is typically subjected to thorough washing, eliminating dirt and organic materials that might harbor these microorganisms.

Following this, sanitization procedures, which might involve heat treatments or safe chemical processes, ensure that any lingering pathogens are effectively neutralized.


Play sand is more than just a medium for children’s fun; it’s a material that must prioritize health and safety.

Essential to its suitability for young users is its non-toxic composition. Quality play sand is made from materials free of harmful chemicals, ensuring that children are shielded from potential health hazards during their playtime.

Heavy metals like lead and mercury are especially concerning, given their known adverse effects on human health.

Even trace amounts of these metals can be detrimental, especially for children who are more vulnerable to toxic exposure.

To guarantee the safety of play sand, many countries have enforced stringent standards.

For instance, in Europe, the European Toy Safety Directive (EN 71) serves as a benchmark, ensuring that toys, including play sand, are devoid of substances that might harm children.

Similarly, in the U.S., the ASTM F963 standard underscores the importance of toy safety, setting clear guidelines on permissible levels of various compounds.

Particle Size

Particle size in play sand plays a pivotal role in ensuring safety for its young users. The grains must be meticulously calibrated to strike a balance between two primary concerns: ingestion and inhalation.

Specifically, if the sand particles are too large, there’s an increased risk of children accidentally swallowing them, which can lead to digestive complications.

On the other hand, overly fine particles can become airborne with ease. When children play, these minuscule grains can be inadvertently inhaled, potentially leading to respiratory issues such as irritation or more severe conditions, especially with prolonged exposure.

To address this, many manufacturers aim for a particle size that sits comfortably between these two extremes.

For instance, grains that fall within the range of 0.2mm to 1mm are often considered ideal.

This range ensures that the particles are not easily ingestible due to their size, nor are they readily respirable, thus reducing the risk of inhalation.

Low Dust

Dust content in play sand directly impacts both the safety and cleanliness of the play environment. Ideally, play sand should have a minimal amount of dust to ensure children’s wellbeing.

The primary concern with dust is its potential to trigger respiratory problems. As children play, elevated dust levels can be stirred into the air, leading to inhalation.

This can cause respiratory irritations and can be particularly concerning for children with asthma or allergies, exacerbating their conditions. Moreover, frequent inhalation of fine dust over time can have long-term health implications.

Additionally, sand with high dust content can also be a catalyst for allergic reactions.

Skin, eye, and nasal irritations can occur when children come into direct contact with dusty sand.

From an environmental perspective, low dust content means a cleaner play area. High dust levels can quickly spread, settling on nearby surfaces, and toys, and even being carried indoors, leading to additional cleaning and maintenance tasks.

Therefore, when selecting play sand, it’s advisable to opt for products that specifically mention low dust content or have undergone processes to reduce dust.

This ensures not only a safe playtime for children but also a cleaner, more manageable play space for caregivers and parents.


A critical yet often overlooked quality of play sand is its ability to be non-staining. As children immerse themselves in their sandy adventures, the last thing parents and caregivers want is lasting reminders on clothes or skin.

Non-staining play sand has been processed to ensure that it does not release color or other compounds when it comes into contact with moisture, which can be abundant in play scenarios, whether from sweat, water, or even the natural oils on the skin.

Stains can be more than just a laundry concern; they can indicate the presence of dyes or other additives in the sand that might not be suitable for extended skin contact.

Moreover, when sand leaves marks on the skin, it can sometimes cause irritation, especially if the child has sensitive skin or if the marks are difficult to wash off and remain for longer durations.

From a practical standpoint, non-staining properties are a boon for parents. It means less time spent on rigorous laundry sessions and reduces the chances of favorite clothes getting permanently discolored.


Sandbox sand, also known as play sand, is typically found in a range of colors, with the most common being light tan, beige, or off-white.

The color of the play sand depends on its source and the type of minerals present in it. Some play sand may have a more consistent color, as it is manufactured specifically for use in play areas and sandboxes.


Play sand is sourced from various natural locations, such as riverbeds, quarries, or beaches.

The specific source can influence the properties of the sand, including its texture, color, and mineral composition.

After being collected, the raw sand goes through a series of processing steps to ensure it meets the required health and safety standards for use in children’s play areas and sandboxes.

By going through these steps, manufacturers ensure that play sand is safe, clean, and suitable for use in children’s play areas and sandboxes.

It is essential to purchase play sand specifically designed for this purpose, as other types of sand may not meet the same health and safety standards.

What size Play Sand is?

Although there is no single standard for sand particle size, play sand typically has a medium to coarse texture.

This means that the individual particles will be larger than masonry or potting sand. That said most play sand particle sizes range from 1 to 2mm (0.04 to 0.08 inches).

What is the difference between Masonry Sand and Play Sand?

FeatureMasonry SandPlay Sand
Primary UseMasonry workPlaygrounds, sandboxes, landscaping, and gardening
Particle SizeSmallerLarger
Particle GeometryNot as roundMore round for safety reasons
TreatmentWashed and driedWashed and dried, may require additional treatment to remove impurities
TestingMineral contentMineral content and safety standards, like being free of bacteria, fungi, and algae
Safety RegulationsRegulated by ASTM C270Regulated by CPSC
SourceQuarriesWater bodies like the ocean or rivers
Salt ContentNo saltMay have some salt
Health StandardsNo health standardsRequired to meet certain health standards for safety
Comparison Table: Masonry Sand vs. Play Sand

There are a number of differences between masonry sand and play sand.

Particle Size

Masonry sand is graded into different sizes for different applications. Play sand, on the other hand, is not graded as strictly.

This is because play sand is mainly used for children to play in. The particle size of masonry sand is also quite smaller than play sand.

Particle Geometry

Play sand is desired to be more round than sharp. This is because it’s safer for children to play with and also easier to clean up if it gets into their eyes or mouth.

Masonry sand, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be as safe since it isn’t meant for children to play with.


Both play sand and masonry sand are initially screened for impurities and washed before packaging.

However, play sand may require additional treatment to remove any heavy metals or other impurities that may be present.


Both play sand and masonry sand are typically tested for the presence of their mineral content.

However, the tests conducted for the verification of masonry sand are not necessarily the same as those conducted for play sand. This is because the two grains of sand are meant for different uses and have to meet different standards.

Safety Regulations

Both masonry and play sand are subject to safety regulations, but the types of regulations vary.

Masonry sand is typically regulated by the ASTM C270 Standard Specification for Mortar Sand for its industrial use.

Play sand, on the other hand, is expected to meet safety standards established by the CPSC.

Because play sand is meant for children to play with while masonry sand is used in construction, the two grains of sand have different purposes and need different safety regulations.


Masonry sand comes from quarries that are mining for sand to be used in the manufacture of concrete, mortar, and other masonry products. On the other hand, play sand is sourced from water bodies like the ocean or rivers.

Salt content

Masonry sand should never have salt in it. Because it can cause concrete and mortar to crack.

Play sand may have some salt in it, but it is typically removed before the sale.

Health Standards

Play sand is required to meet a certain set of health standards like being free of bacteria, fungi, and algae.

Masonry sand does not have any such health standards because it is typically mixed with cement and used in buildings.


Masonry sand and play sand are very different grains of sand. They have a number of differences in the sizes, shapes, content, and safety regulations required by each grain.

Therefore, it’s important to make sure that you’re using the right grain of sand for your project. If not, it could end up costing you a lot more time and money than necessary.

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